Secretary of State Kerry makes appearances in Miami Thursday

Secretary of State John Kerry presents the 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Wednesday at State Department in Washington.
Secretary of State John Kerry presents the 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Wednesday at State Department in Washington. AP

Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Miami Thursday to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community and address Miami Dade Honors College students, waded into the controversy over Carnival Corp.’s plans to begin trips to Cuba aboard its Fathom line on May 1.

Fathom has declined to book passengers born in Cuba on the inaugural trip because of a Cuban restriction against people born in Cuba arriving in or departing from the island in a vessel.

“The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,” Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español in Miami.

“American citizens, Cuban-Americans, have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us,” he said.

Kerry’s local appearances came on the heels of the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world.

The section on Cuba in the 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted that on the island there is “abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose their government; the use of government threats, physical assault, intimidation, and violent government-organized counter protests against peaceful dissent” as well as harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.

In remarks Wednesday, Kerry noted that Cuba is one of the countries where “our backing for human rights and democratic principles is a focus of our diplomacy.” He also included the Central Asia states and Egypt in that category.

During recent trips to Cuba, Kerry said that both he and President Barack Obama had urged Cuban authorities to allow more political openness and online access.

“There is no question in my mind that most Cubans are far more interested in plugging into the world economy than in recycling arguments left over from the Cold War,” Kerry said. “The only question is how long it will take for the officials in Havana to catch up with the population.”

He went on to point that not every conversation the United States has on human rights bears fruit but said “steady effort, we have seen again and again, can foster progress and make a difference.”

Kerry began his day in South Florida with an early afternoon stop at the U.S. Passport Office in Miami for a meeting with local U.S. State Department personnel that was followed by a meeting with Cuban-American leaders.

His evening address at the Freedom Tower won’t be political and is expected to focus on the students’ academic accomplishments, leadership contributions and the possibility of them pursuing careers in the Foreign Service and the public sector.

Kerry was scheduled to speak at a special medallion awards ceremony for Honors College students prior to the college’s April 30 commencement. The Honors College, which emphasizes rigorous academics and a global perspective, has been recognized as a stepping stone to prestigious colleges and universities around the world.